Sailing to recovery

Everything changed when he met Caelestis. The 65-foot custom cutter-rigged sloop cost Matt Satterlee ’94 everything, but has gained him much more.

He purchased Caelestis in May 2009, just a week after he laid eyes on her. Since that destined encounter, Satterlee and his father, John, moved aboard and sold everything else. This isn’t Satterlee’s first time living on a boat. “I was in the Navy for six years,” he said. “When I got out in 2001 I moved to San Diego. A friend suggested I buy a boat and sell my house.” He purchased a 35-foot 1995 Hunter Legend, which he lived on for more than three years as he transitioned back into civilian life and worked as a registered nurse.

Now, Satterlee and his father have been docked in the San Diego Bay for the past two years to trim expenses. “We’re dedicating every dollar and resource to prepare this vessel for work with Search for One in the Republic of Kiribati,” he explained. “Nearly every system on Caelestis has needed repair or upgrading, including electrical, refrigeration, addition of solar panels, solar tower, electronics, standing rigging, autopilot, water maker and much more.”

Satterlee met Gary Morgan, the founder of Search for One, at a convention in Orlando, Fla., in 2005. “Gary did a mission spotlight,” he said. “He talked about his medical and dental effort mission in Kiribati and I just felt inspired, like when I had gone on mission trips in academy and college. My interest in travel and mission work never died—it had just been put on the back burner.”

Satterlee had big plans for Caelestis from the beginning. Immediately after the purchase he helped create Sailing to Recover, a public nonprofit charity that is dedicated to educating people in drug addiction recovery and alcohol abuse while in a sailing environment and atmosphere.

As a nurse, Satterlee often works with those in recovery and has volunteered in several sober living homes (similar to halfway houses). Sailing to Recovery is a combination of his passions for helping people and sailing. Each week guests are loaded onto Caelestis and motored to an anchor point in the South San Diego Bay for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Satterlee explained that in this more relaxed atmosphere people seem more comfortable and willing to participate in meetings. As someone who personally battled addiction, Satterlee feels strongly about connecting with others who have had similar experiences.

After a snowboarding accident in 2000 left Satterlee with a severe back injury, he slowly became dependent on narcotic prescription medication. Six years later, he was introduced to a substance abuse recovery program. “I reached a point where I had to take a step back and consider the direction my life was taking,” he said. “I made the personal choice to go to the meetings and get help. That’s when I started my life over.”

Satterlee is quick to acknowledge everyone’s journey is different. “Each story of recovery is individual yet similar in many ways,” he explained. “There is fear, pain, growth, and healing. Living aboard Caelestis helped me by keeping me focused on my long-term goals. Now I’m holding recovery meetings on Caelsetis, which is giving others a new chapter in their own recovery. It was a joy to see the peace it brought people and I’m glad that I can provide that opportunity for many people. I’ve enjoyed being a registered nurse and helping others. Now I can do it in a balanced way and live my dreams at the same time through our mission work waiting for us in the Kiribati Islands.”

The next leg of Caelestis’ journey will begin in the early months of 2012 as Satterlee and his father set sail for the South Pacific. The two will be assisting Morgan linguistically and by transporting medical goods, personnel and medical equipment. They plan to stay for at least three years and hope to offer their services to other outfits and groups needing similar support.

Beyond selling most of their belongings, Satterlee and his father are doing all they can to financially prepare for this journey. Tourists and locals take day excursions and sunset cruises on Caelestis each weekend. Satterlee says it’s a great way to meet people and talk about the upcoming mission trip. A voluntary donation is asked for at the end of each cruise and all money goes toward the nonprofit program and maintaining the boat. While Satterlee is in the islands, fundraising will be done by board members as well as help from friends and families.

“Where we’re going is one of the most isolated parts in the world,” said Satterlee. “The only communication is ham radios or satellite phones. The Seventh-day Adventist community has a pretty good foothold there and are currently the only outside medical support the islands receive. My passion is helping less fortunate people by providing them a needed service and accepting them for what they believe. Lives are changed by our attitudes and how we reach out.”

To learn more and support the efforts of Sailing to Recover and Search for One visit searchforone.org and sailingtorecovery.org.

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